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EXPLAINED: How does a wildcat strike work in Sweden?

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EXPLAINED: How does a wildcat strike work in Sweden?
A passenger outside Stockholm Central Station shows their support for the train drivers holding a wildcat strike. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

Train drivers in Stockholm are this week mounting the first wildcat strike seen in Sweden since Stockholm rubbish collectors dropped their tools in 2017. What is a wildcat strike and how does it work?


What is a wildcat strike? 

A wildcat strike is a strike that does not have the support of a union.


How common are they in Sweden? 

While wildcat strikes are relatively common in countries like the US and UK, where unions wield less power and are more combative, in Sweden they are relatively rare. 

The last wildcat strike in Sweden took place in 2017, when rubbish collectors stopped making collections in protest against changes to their salary conditions. 

But in the more turbulent 1970s and 1980s, they were more common, as local salary negotiations played a bigger role in Swedish union relations. Since most industrial sectors started to have their wages set through big central agreements, they have become much less common. 

Why are wildcat strikes so unusual in Sweden? 

In 1976, Sweden brought in a new union law called Medbestämmandelagen(MBL), or the Co-determination Act, which regulated the relationship between companies and their employees. 

Among other things, the law includes a fredsplikt, or "duty of peace", which forbids employees who are employed under a collective agreement between their union and their employer from going on strike.

As a result, strikes are effectively illegal unless they take place during negotiations over a new collective agreement. 

Even between collective agreements, strikes can only legally take place with the support of the union. 


So what penalties do workers who join wildcat strikes face? 

Workers who join wildcat strikes risk having to pay damages if their employer takes the case to Sweden's Labour Court (Arbetsdomstolen). 

The train drivers striking in Stockholm have told the TT newswire that they expect to have to pay about 3,000 kronor per person per strike event. 

According to Christer Thörnqvist, Senior Lecturer in Business Administration at the University of Skövde, they do not, however risk being sacked, or at least not yet. 

"For that to happen, the strike needs to have carried on for a very long time," he said. "You don't lose your job for a wildcat strike lasting three days." 


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